Van is one of the biggest cities in eastern Anatolia. The population is mainly Kurdish and Muslim. It was our first stop in Turkey after almost two weeks in Iran.

Here, women wear headscarves if they choose; in Iran, women and girls over the age of nine are obliged to cover their heads in public. We can get alcohol in some restaurants and shops here; in Iran, that's not possible (unless you give the right nods and winks to a waiter who might know someone who has a supply and can arrange a delivery, to be consumed in secret in your hotel room). And I can wear shorts, which I was strongly advised not to try in Iran.

In politics too there are significant differences. Iranians vote in free elections for their parliament and president, but all political and legal decisions are subject to approval by the supreme leader. Nowadays the head of state doesn't wear diamond-studded regalia as in the days of the Shah; he wears clerical robes.

Turks elect their leaders, and chose a hegemonic, corrupt, "progressive-conservative-secular-Islamist" -- with stress on parts two and four -- as prime minister in three successive elections. The multi-faced Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is now standing for election as president of the Turkish Republic. In a Putin-Medvedev-style manoeuvre, he is proposing that the current president, Gül, take over as prime minister.

Cheers to choice!

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